"Living Beyond Lust"
June 13, 2010 1Thess.3:12-4:10
SWIMMING AGAINST THE TIDE
In his book Crazy Love, Californian pastor Francis Chan observes: "Following Christ isn't something that can be done halfheartedly or on the side. It is not a label we can display when it is useful. It must be central to everything we do and are. If life is a river, then pursuing Christ requires swimming upstream. When we stop swimming, or actively following Him, we automatically begin to be swept downstream. Or, to use another metaphor more familiar to city people, we are on a never-ending downward escalator. In order to grow, we have to turn around and sprint up the escalator, putting up with perturbed looks from everyone else who is gradually moving downward."
In no area is this more true than in the area of lust and sexual appetites. Lust is one of the tolerated, if not approved or even applauded, 'besetting sins' of our society. This week I received an alert from the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada that says, "With complete disregard for the sanctity of core family values and specifically the innocence of youth, the CRTC...has made an intolerable decision by encouraging public access to pornography and mandating that it include Canadian content." It goes on to say the CRTC has licensed pay-TV pornography channels to both Montreal and Alberta based companies requiring a minimum of 20 or 50 percent Canadian content, respectively. Thus the porn to be shown must be produced in Canada with Canadian participants. Don Hutchinson, VP of EFC's General Legal Counsel notes, "Pornography is rampantly spreading throughout our country.It has already become a $15-billion a year industry in North America...Pornography distorts the biblical perspective of sex and sexuality, and damages individuals and their relationships. Sexual immorality is encouraged, instilling and intensifying lust while opening the door to addiction." Regarding the CRTC decision he adds, "this act has the potential to destroy scores of marriages, families and individual lives."
Those of us who are older can look back across the decades and see the slide in standards of what's presently allowed on prime-time TV. The internet has made the problem much worse: now smut actively searches you out through your email and googling (which can turn all too quickly to oggling). I'm not immune: though I use Mozilla Firefox and have Adblock Plus installed to spare me suggestive ads, recently I did an innocent search and found one of the results had to do with a news item featuring Lady Gaga. The tiny image - probably no more than an inch high - nevertheless caught my eye as it was apparent her black fishnet top really wasn't concealing anything at all. It was SO tempting just to click and get the bigger image - you know, just to make sure that's what I was really seeing. I didn't - but resisting the impulse DID take far too long!
Lust is not a new problem. It was around long before the internet. Thankfully, in today's passage, we have helpful counsel from the apostle Paul in his letter to the church at Thessalonica. It suggests an A-B-C-D approach by which we can, with the Lord's help, find the freedom of holy behaviour instead of being dragged down by lust's deception.
AUTHORITY: WARNED, IN JESUS' NAME
Several verses here highlight the authority and importance by which God commands us to abstain from lust. V2, "For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus." Literally, 'the orders we gave you THROUGH (or, as coming from) the Lord Jesus.' He's not making this up! Simply transmitting Jesus' own emphasis. Note an echo of this in v1, "We ask you and urge you IN THE LORD JESUS to do this more and more (ie live in order to please God)." V8 repeats that this isn't coming from them as apostles: "he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit."
The divine Commander is also the Enforcer. What God instructs, He holds us accountable for. V6B, "The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you."
If Jesus did in fact command sexual purity, we would expect to see that reflected in the teaching of other apostles. 1Peter 2:11 says, "Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires (or, fleshly lusts), which war against your soul." Hear the intensity of the struggle here? Not trip up, or struggle, or fight, but WAR against your soul. These are sins that can destroy you, take you down. John Owen wrote, "Be killing sin or it will be killing you."
So, "A" stands for the authority of the Lord by which we're warned against sexual sin, of which lust is the leader.
BETTER: WHAT'S THE 'SOMETHING BETTER' HOLY LIVING PROMISES?
We all know you can tell someone a hundred times NOT to do something, but unless you offer a better alternative, they're going to keep being drawn to the original deceptive delicacy. Lust offers a 'quick fix' with disastrous long-term effects; what's the 'something better' God promises to those who live His way?
Just before chapter 4, Paul offers a little word-picture of the ultimate reward for righteous living: 3:13, "...so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones." That's the long-term goal, we WANT to be able to stand before God at the parousia or coming of Jesus Christ without blame, unashamed, free from guilt and regret. Jesus said in the Beatitudes, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God." Do you want that? Seeing God in all His loving beauty and perfection and glory, rather than being locked into sleazy smut?
4:1, "Finally, brothers, we instructed you how to live in order to PLEASE GOD..." If we call Jesus 'Lord', isn't that our whole purpose - living in a way that pleases Him? V3, "It is God's will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality..." Don't you appreciate how point-blank Paul sets it forth? There's the standard, fellas. Also v7, "God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life." That's God's vision for us as His sons and daughters, His plan, the fulfilling lifestyle God intends or envisages for us. His will, His calling, the way we can please Him.
4:4, it is God's will "that each of you should learn to control his own body [literally, vessel] in a way that is holy and honorable..." Other commentators argue this can also mean taking a wife in a way that's holy and honorable - ie coming to the marriage bed chaste and celibate, unbesmirched by illicit sexual activity. Whether vessel means body or wife, the net result is the same: God's will or plan for us is to show self-control that produces holy honorable living. A good reputation, to be esteemed in the general population, to have glory and thus bring Him glory. Let honour outweigh your hormones!
Thinking about the 'something better' - what are the practical benefits of living beyond (above) lust? One thing that's pretty obvious in our time would be freedom from fear of disease, killers like HIV/AIDS, or a whole host of lesser but dangerous Sexually Transmitted Diseases. Having stayed abstinent before marriage, and just had 1 partner after marriage who herself was pure before we wed, I have absolutely ZERO worries about STDs. That's great!
Contrast that with the current situation out there - at the Regier conference for youth, one of the speakers commented doctors are concerned at seeing an increase in throat cancer among teens experimenting with oral sex: that avoids pregnancy but brings with it a risk of Human PapillomaVirus infection which studies have shown can trigger throat cancer. No thanks!
There are undesirable spiritual consequences to lust, such as deception (trying to cover up your activity), depression, self-loathing, leaving yourself wide open to abuse from Satan the Accuser, not to mention blocking fellowship with God.
Another benefit of not lusting is freedom from addiction and its consequences on family life and even vocation. In April 2009 a Listowel high school teacher was reprimanded and suspended by the Ontario College of Teachers for downloading pornographic images and videos on school computers, some involving girls presenting themselves as under the age of 18. Looking at the College's public record, that teacher graduated with his B Ed in 1993. So, here's a teacher nearly 40 years old who loses his livelihood because of his lustful habit. Yes it has destroyed high-profile clergy, and teachers - and it can destroy you, too!
Lust corrupts. Ephesians 4:22 NRSV, "You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts..." 2Peter 1:4 NRSV holds out the possibility that we "escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants of the divine nature." Lust may seem delicious at first but it will rot you. Don't be deluded! Go for what's far better.
COMMUNITY: THE PROTECTIVE BLANKET OF CHRISTIAN LOVE
I chose the Scripture verses to begin at the end of chapter 3 because this section dealing with sexuality is sandwiched between verses dealing with brotherly love in Christ. So "C" stands for "Community".
Look at 3:12, "May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you." Paul's praying for the Lord to cause their love to abound not just for one another but also for those outside the church - as Paul, Timothy, and crew deeply loved those in Thessalonica. Do you start to get the sense of true community?
Now, skip down to how Paul winds up this section, 4:9-10:"Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other.And in fact, you do love all the brothers throughout Macedonia.Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more." Placing this emphasis around the teaching on lust and sex suggests that, when we are experiencing the best in Christian community - when we feel loved and appreciated and are actively loving and caring for others in meaningful fellowship - appreciating people at a soul level, deeper than just their skin and shape - that helps guard against harmful sexual desires. Real Christian caring then may act as an antidote or 'booster shot' that helps protect us from cheap degrading counterfeits.
Think about it: under what conditions are you most likely to find it easy to be tempted to click on an immoral link, or watch the wrong show, or fantasize by reading a Harlequin romance? Is it not when you're alone, maybe a bit tired or discouraged, feeling sorry for yourself? That's when we're tempted to seek the "quick fix" hormonally, a rush of adrenaline by the wrong source.
Probably the best help in fighting lust is an accountability partner we trust an respect to whom we've given permission to ask us the hard questions. A real 'buddy' in Christ who cares for us and may have a sixth sense when the tempter's trying us. The Lord's brother James wrote (5:16,19f): "...confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed...My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins." Doesn't that sound like brotherly love in action? Church should be a place where we find partners-in-spirit we can share our struggles with, admit when we've blown it, repent, and help each other get back on our feet and fight again. Someone who you need to sensitively get in your face about 'the error of [your] way'. How else we gonna grow?
DURABLE, DELIGHT, DILIGENCE: 3D DEFENCE AGAINST SIN
"C" is for community, the Christian love that is far more fulfilling and wholesome than lust. Brotherly love strengthens our hearts, makes us more durable against sin's attack. Between 3:12 and 13 in the Greek there isn't a period /full stop as in the NIV, but a comma with a conjunction of purpose; it flows through as the RSV and NLT translate it: "May the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another...SO THAT He may establish your hearts unblamable in holiness..." "May the Lord make your love for one another and for all people grow and overflow...May He, AS A RESULT, make your hearts strong, blameless, and holy..." See the connection? God uses that endearing love to strengthen our hearts, establish them, give them a foundation strong enough to resist the knocks of sin. To say no to temptation, rather than be ensnared like the fool in Proverbs 7(23ff) whose lust leads him like an ox to the slaughter as he lets his heart turn to the ways of the seductress.
A durable heart finds its Delight (3:13) "in the presence of our God and Father..." When Jesus comes and we receive our new glorified bodies, we'll be able to admire God forever in heaven - our Father who is like a solar wind of blessing and grace, more beautiful than a multi-dimensional rainbow, more awesome than a skyful of stars or a dramatic thunderstorm. Why did the crowds follow Jesus? He drew people because He was so wonder-full, so caring, absolute love and wisdom - they couldn't get enough of Him. God is the only One who can totally satisfy our delight and our desires.
Lust attracts when people don't know God, haven't savoured His divine goodness. 4:5 tells us to control ourselves in a way that is holy and honorable, "not in passionate lust like the heathen, who DO NOT KNOW GOD..." There's the contrast right there - know God, or be a sucker for passionate lust. Who could possibly want to eat rotten banana peel when you've got black forest cake? Knowing and delighting in the Lord helps us 'just say no' to lust.
If our hearts are strengthened and durable, delighting in God, we can then be DILIGENT - making holy behaviour routine, our practice. Proverbs 4:23 NASV, "Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life." Your heart is the seat of your desires; monitor it carefully. Jesus knew how vital the heart is for holy living. He said in Mark 7(21-23), "For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.All these evils come from inside and make a man 'unclean.'"
We will also be diligent with our eyes, which are closely related. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus preached, "The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!" (Mt 6:22-23) Lusting darkens us, grimes us up on the inside. Women can even start to just feel dirty if a man looks at them lustfully. Jesus tied eye and heart together when He said, "But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.[Then He added this warning] If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell." (Mt 5:28-29) Doesn't that sound rather drastic? You know He wasn't meaning it literally because you would still be lusting with the left eye even without the right eye. But He's warning, "Take sin that seriously!"
John Piper once told a man who was living in adultery, "You know Jesus says that if you don't fight this sin with the kind of seriousness that is willing to gouge out your own eye, you will go to hell and suffer there forever." In other words - "Jesus said, if you don't fight lust, you won't go to heaven."(Col 3:6; Gal 5:21; 1Cor 6:10; Heb 12:14)
EXAMPLES OF PRACTICAL HELPS
I'd like to close with a quick summary of practical suggestions that can help you fight lust - to swim upstream against the tide that would engulf us. A simple thing is the eye-bounce - learning to quickly re-direct your eyes whenever something appears that could cause you to lust. If you're married, maybe your wife can help by putting a cushion or piece of cardboard in front of your face until the scene on the TV or movie has past. Men don't always have to hold the remote, you know!
John Regier recommends keeping a 3x5 index card in your pocket on which you're written some of God's promises about this, and your commitment to fight to stay pure as His dearly-loved child. Then when temptation strikes you've got about 3 seconds to reach into your pocket and quickly re-direct your attention. Use God's promises to fight this soul war. Remember what Peter said: "His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires." (2Pe 1:3f) God's promises are your lifeline!
Don't forget earthly helps such as PluggedIn.com which has Christian ratings / details about movies. IMDB.org has useful information, especially in the 'parental advisory' section. What about ruling out consideration of R-rated movies altogether? It's not the total answer - even some PG movies can be pretty 'sketchy' - but it's a start. I subscribe to SchedulesDirect.org (USD$20/yr) and use MyTelly.sourceforge.net to download a week's movie schedule, then run a filter, so I've got the whole printout of non-R-rated movies coming up with time and channel.
On the internet, we've already mentioned Mozilla Firefox and Adblock Plus to eliminate distracting ads. xxxchurch.com offers 3 types of accountability / filtering software, including x3watch, a free program that sends a list of questionable sites you've visited each month (say) to an accountability partner you choose. It's not hack-proof but it's a big start. Don't forget to place your monitor where passersby can see at any time where you're browsing.
This probably should go without saying, but if you're married, love your spouse well! Head off lust before it starts, as much as you can. Help each other find godly and other-honouring ways to meet bodily needs. That's a command (1Cor 7:3ff).
Learn a lesson from Joseph who found himself cornered in Genesis 39(11): avoid situations where you might be tempted to compromise. Steer clear - don't put yourself in that situation in the first place. Commitment to Christ begs accountability - that's just part of the package.
In closing, here's an acronym John Piper made up to help in battling the unbelief of lust: A N T H E M.
A - AVOID as much as is possible and reasonable the sights and situations that arouse unfitting desire. "Avoiding" is a Biblical strategy."Flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness" (2 Timothy 2:22)."Make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires" (Romans 13:14).
N - Say NO to every lustful thought within five seconds. And say it with the authority of Jesus Christ. "In the name of Jesus, NO!" You don't have much more than five seconds. Say it out loud if you dare. Be tough and warlike. Strike fast and strike hard. "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you" ( James 4:7).
T - TURN the mind forcefully toward Christ as a superior satisfaction. Saying "no" will not suffice. You must move from defense to offense. Attack the promises of sin with the promises of Christ. We must stock our minds with the superior promises and pleasures of Jesus. Then we must turn to them immediately after saying, "NO!"
H - HOLD the promise and the pleasure of Christ firmly in your mind until it pushes the other images out. "Fix your eyes on Jesus" (Hebrews 3:1). Take the kingdom violently (Matthew 11:12). Be brutal. Hold the promise of Christ before your eyes. Hold it. Hold it! Don't let it go! Keep holding it! How long? As long as it takes. Fight! For Christ's sake, fight till you win!
E - ENJOY a superior satisfaction. Cultivate the capacities for pleasure in Christ. One reason lust reigns in so many is that Christ has so little appeal.What steps have you taken to waken affection for Jesus? You were created to treasure Christ with all your heart - more than you treasure sex or sugar. Plead with God for the satisfaction you don't have: "Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days" (Psalm 90:14). Then look, look, look at the most magnificent Person in the universe until you see him the way he is.
M - MOVE into a useful activity away from idleness and other vulnerable behaviors. Lust grows fast in the garden of leisure. Find a good work to do, and do it with all your might."Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord" (1 Corinthians 15:58). Abound in work. Get up and do something. Sweep a room. Hammer a nail. Write a letter. Fix a faucet. And do it for Jesus' sake. Christ died to make you "zealous for good deeds" (Titus 2:14). Displace deceitful lusts with a passion for good deeds. (source: http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/TasteAndSee/ByDate/2001/1187_ANTHEM_Strategies_for_Fighting_Lust/)